How to Prepare Figures in Effective Technical Writing

How to Prepare Figures in Effective Technical Writing

Preparation of figures in effective technical writing is a matter of great concern.

1. Definition of figures in technical writing

We may define figures as any visual element like graphs, charts, diagrams, and photographs. Graphs and charts are the fastest method of presenting data. A well designed graph is much better illustration of scientific data in comparison to verbal description.

Graphs and charts may also be in form of pie charts, flow-charts, histograms etc.

2. Caption of figures

A figure given in a technical report must have a specific number, so that it may be referred easily.

It should also have a caption, which should be concise, but comprehensive. It should be able to describe the data prevented. Also, it should be able to draw attention to a distinct feature, which otherwise, may have gone unnoticed.

We must bear in mind that the figures, may help in better interpretation of the research findings. That is the reason, why, sometimes, salient points of the figure are briefly described there itself.

3. Differences between figures and table

Figures include drawings, pie charts, line carts, bar charts, histograms, diagrams, and photographs. Table on the other hand, are the compilation of the data in the form of rows and columns.

For more information on tables, please refer to the following blog, published by us, earlier.

11 Steps to Prepare Tables in a Technical Report

4. List of figures

Readers prefer to use the list of figures to locate visual information ( figures, drawings , photos) in technical writing.

Some general rules are:

– Abstract , Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations, neither have list of figures nor the figures or tables.

– Research journals, may not have list of figures. Books, technical reports must have list of figures.

5. Guide lines for figures in technical writing

Technical Writing - Graphs
Photographer: Isaac Smith | Source: Unsplash

I. Control the figure elements

All the figure elements including letters, numbers, must be legible and distinct at final size

In general, technical writes must try to make the figure type size large enough, so that it is at least 8 points after reduction. No type should be less than 6 points.

II. Make the graphs simple in technical writing

We should try to make the graphs simple. Some simple rules are:

  • Scale of a line graph should be designed in such a way as they are able to depict the results clearly.

    If a small change in one parameter brings an appreciable change in the other, the later one should be highlighted.

  • Effect of spacing of grid lines in a graph.

    Generally, we should avoid grid lines in a graph. However, if the exact values of parameter are to be shown, then the narrow grid lines may be used.

    On the other hand, if we want to show approximate values of parameters, wide grid lines should be the preferred choice.

  • Simplify an over-crowded graph.
  • Similarly a line graph with several group of related information, should be avoided

III. Figures should be self explanatory

We may do these by simplifying our presentation and adopting an easy to understand title for the contents of figures.

Once we present a technical information in the form of a figure , it should not be repeated, in another way.

IV. Follow the instructions of research journals in technical writing

The instructions of journal must be followed in preparation of figures, if you are submitting a research paper for publication.

V. Maintain the clarity of photographs, visual, maps, drawings.

Unless photographs, visuals, maps, drawings are clear, they will not serve any purpose.

VI. Use old figures as templates in technical writing

If you are making a complex figure, with multiple graphs and a precisely aligned layout, never throw it away.

This may save your time and energy next time, if you use it as a template.

VII. Use modern tools in composing of figures in technical writing

Gone are the days, when we, the oldies, used to prepare graphs, charts, histograms etc. by actually plotting the values on a graph paper.

It has been given a new direction by many modern tools like matlab.

Also, many softwares are available, which may be used for making of figures in technical writing. Similarly, latest versions of micro-soft-office may help you a lot in this matter. The readers may refer to these.

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